Cyprus Suspends Processing Asylum Applications for Syrian Nationals

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Cyprus suspended its processing of asylum applications for people of Syrian origin, citing the recent influx of Syrian political asylum seekers arriving in the island nation by boat.

Cyprus said Saturday that it has suspended its processing of asylum applications for people of Syrian origin because large numbers of refugees from the war-torn country continue to reach the island nation by boat, primarily from Lebanon.

In a post on X (better known as Twitter) Saturday afternoon, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said: “Due to the recent mass arrival of Syrian political asylum seekers by sea, and pending developments on the Syrian status reassessment issue, the processing of asylum applications in all cases of persons of Syrian origin is suspended.”

The Cypriot government also said in a written statement that the suspension is also partly because of ongoing efforts to get the European Union to redesignate some areas of Syria as safe zones to enable repatriations.

The drastic step comes in the wake of Christodoulides’ visit to Lebanon earlier this week to appeal to Lebanese authorities to stop departures of migrant-laden boats from their shores. The request comes in light of a 27-fold increase in migrant arrivals to Cyprus so far this year over the same period last year.

According to Cyprus Interior Ministry statistics, some 2,140 people arrived by boat to EU-member Cyprus between January 1 and April 4 of this year, the vast majority of them being Syrian nationals departing from Lebanon. In contrast, only 78 people arrived by boat in the island nation in the corresponding period last year.

Christodoulides and Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati called on the European Union on Monday to provide financial support to help cash-strapped Lebanon stop migrants from reaching Cyprus.

Just days before his trip to Lebanon, Christodoulides said he had personally asked EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen to intercede with Lebanese authorities to curb migrant boat departures.

Although the EU should provide “substantial” EU support to Lebanon, the Cypriot president said any financial help should be linked to how effectively Lebanese authorities monitor their coastline and prevent boat departures.

Lebanon and Cyprus already have a bilateral deal where Cypriot authorities would return migrants attempting to reach the island from Lebanon. But Cypriot Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou has said Lebanon is refusing to keep its end of the deal due to domestic pressures.

The UN refugee agency says that Lebanon – which is coping with a crippling economic crisis since 2019 – hosts some 805,000 UN-registered Syrian refugees, of which 90% live in poverty. Lebanese officials estimate that the actual number is far higher, ranging between 1.5 and 2 million. Many have escaped Syria’s civil war, which entered its 14th year.